Tonight, I am facilitating a gathering of women who have been friends for years. Most of them moved here from Russia in their youth, with their families, and they've known one another since they were in middle school. The connection to this group came from my son's former preschool teacher, my former colleague and present friend, who met one of the women at a knitting circle. This woman was looking for someone who could help her bridge the gap in her home between her Russian and Soviet past, and the Waldorf-style parenting she wanted to create for her daughter. Mila and I met at her home, and the group was her idea.
It's hard for me to see myself as any kind of expert: as a parent, as a teacher, or as a storyteller. My Russian is terribly rusty; every word has to be dug up from under layers of dust, blown off, and sounded uncertainly, with a timid hope that it is the right one. And yet, here I am, working to bring something of value to these women who want to bring something gentle and somewhat intangible into their homes. The resources in English are numerous, and one can find the resources in Russian, for use in Russia, in a Russian, post-Soviet setting. But something for speakers of Russian, in America, with a child-centered, Waldorf-inspired mood? That is well-nigh impossible. We are working to create it together.
And in that creation, I don't have to be an expert. What I can bring, from my years in the classroom and from my own fumbling parenting, is woven into the fabric of the group. My own foolishness can become wisdom when seen through the lens of experience, and when it is mixed with the experience and insight of the group, it can become something new. My role, then, is to invite that wisdom into the circle. I want to help each mother, for we are all mothers for now-- fathers, grandparents, and others might be invited in later -- to find the tools she needs to feel secure, capable, and wise in her parenting.
As a child, I said a prayer every night before sleeping. When I was around 12, it became more of a magical incantation; I feared if I forgot it, if I forgot to pray for the opposite, that someone I loved or knew might become sick or even die. Before that part, though, there were these words, "Help me to grow up strong and healthy; wise, beautiful, and kind." Eventually, this prayer faded in importance, though I'd whisper it to myself in moments of fear or crushing despair in college and even later. A few months ago, though, those words came back to me, and I wondered, what would happen if I actually believed that prayer had been answered, that I had actually become, "wise, beautiful, and kind." I felt a great weight lift in my soul. For so long, I have told myself that I was foolish, selfish, and not beautiful. Maybe pretty, sometimes; maybe clever, now and then, but beautiful? Wise? Never...
Every day, there are moments of challenge and crisis. The urgent whining of my overtired son, dinner on the stove, work to be done, forms to be filled out, and we have to hop in the car yet again... What might it be like, if in such moments, we could tell ourselves the story of how we are wise, beautiful, and kind? The stories we tell about ourselves, to ourselves, form the very core of our sense of self. When I am having a terrible day, the story I am telling is of how inadequate I am, and of how beset I am by the harpies and wolves of the world. But when I can shift the story, perhaps even just a little, I can find the path again through the dark woods, I meet unexpected helpers, and through little acts of kindness, I, like the good sister in "Mother Holle," am rewarded with a shower of gold -- gentleness, goodness, a deep breath, and sweet roses and diamonds falling from my mouth.
The stories of ourselves inform the stories of those around us. If I can tell a story of myself that is one of courage, kindness, wisdom, and beauty, my deeds can reflect that. My son can see me inside that story, and perhaps his own story of himself can be one of bravery, gentleness, and a choice of humor and light over cynicism and fear. When we tell stories to others of these virtues, not saccharine-sweet pedantic pap, but real, wild tales of truth, then they, and we, can discover those virtues within, and become more and more what we are meant to be in the world.
I am reminded of a question asked by Marianne Williamson, and echoed by Penny Sparks: Are you going to meet this day as a queen, or as a scullery maid? What does that mean for how you speak to others, how you speak to yourself? What if, though you feel like a scullery maid, you, like Cap o' Rushes, are from a great family, but cannot let anyone know?
Tonight, I will encourage these mothers, these women whose lives are stories of bravery, of wounds I cannot see, and of foolishness and wisdom, to tell stories of themselves that acknowledge their true selves, so that they can bring those selves into their parenting, their relationships with their spouses, their careers, and their lives with themselves.
What story will you tell today?
Sara is a storyteller, writer, artist, teacher, wife, mother, and singer living in Minnesota. I write about storytelling, and about living a life with stories.